Thursday, 13 July 2017

Unrepresented struggle with employment tribunals

I was surprised by the harsh line taken by the employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal in a case summary prepared by James English of Hempson’s Solicitors and circulated by barrister Daniel Barnett in his excellent employment law bulletin.

The Claimant brought several claims, including constructive dismissal, against his former employer.

Perhaps he didn’t have legal expenses insurance because he initially contacted ACAS for Early Conciliation without any legal representation.  The claimant named a director of the business as the party he wished to make his claim against (the Respondent). It seems that in this case matters could not be resolved through ACAS Early Conciliation and the claimant instructed solicitors to prepare his Claim Form to pursue the matter at tribunal.

The solicitors correctly named the claimant’s ex-employer, 'SNA Transport Limited' as Respondent.  The employment tribunal rejected his claim as the Respondent had not been correctly identified on the Early Conciliation Certificate. His solicitors applied to the tribunal to reconsider that decision on the basis that the use of the director's name was a "minor error", which (under the rules) allows a tribunal to overlook it.

The employment tribunal rejected that application taking the view that confusing the director with the company was not a minor error, and it had been right to reject the claim. The Claimant appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, although sympathetic, rejected the Claimant's application. It said that a two stage test should be applied. Firstly, was it a minor error? If not, the claim would be rejected. Secondly, if it was, the tribunal should go on to consider whether or not it was in the interests of justice to allow the claim to proceed. Although in principle the distinction between a natural and a legal person could amount to a minor error, in this case it did not. Each case should be considered on its facts, and as there was no error in the tribunal's Judgment, the Claimant's appeal was dismissed.

I’m disappointed about this decision as it’s an easy mistake for someone who is acting without legal representation to make.
The case does however underpin the value of legal expenses insurance for ACAS Early Conciliation.  Although the system was designed with the intention that employees should negotiate without legal assistance it is not free of obstacles. If this claimant had taken out LEI, the error in completing the ACAS form would have been avoided, allowing him to pursue his action at tribunal. Additionally, the insurance would have covered the Tribunal fees and legal costs incurred.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Elite in run-off

After the announcement this week that Elite Insurance Company has stopped writing new business, ATE Sales Manager Mike Knight, questions where the next market shock might emerge.

It is almost a year since my colleague Paul Hurley wrote a similar post to this, commenting on the demise of AU Insurance Services, after the small ATE specialist was forced into administration. His words then seem almost eerily prophetic now:

 “Whatever pushed AU Insurance Services into administration, it wasn’t the first small ATE provider to fail, and it won’t be the last. But bigger firms could also be finding the current climate difficult…”

The circumstance of AU’s relatively sudden demise and Elite’s apparently measured decision to move the company into run-off are, of course, very different and the causes may be too. Elite certainly isn’t one of the “…smaller, niche businesses with most or all of their eggs in the ATE insurance basket.” that Paul described last August.

None of us can take any pleasure in the troubles faced by one of our more significant and respected competitors. Aside from the personal difficulties that will now face many of Elite’s staff, some of whom we know well, we also have to consider the uncertainty that such a high profile exit will bring to a market that has faced more than its share of challenges in recent years.

Elite is a sizeable business with multiple offices in several countries and an insurance offering that stretches well beyond its ATE and BTE legal expenses policies. So, it is impossible to say to what extent the challenging ATE market has contributed to the company being forced to make this decision.

Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that the combination of LASPO, increased regulation and even successive insurance premium tax hikes, haven’t played some part, not to mention the uncertainty surrounding EEA passporting rules - under which Gibraltar-domiciled Elite has operated in the UK - as a consequence of Brexit.

Solicitors will be understandably nervous in the wake of such a high profile departure, and many will be wondering “what next?” That, of course, is impossible to predict, but all lawyers offering ATE cover should satisfy themselves that they are at least minimising any risk to their client, and ultimately to their own firm.

That means knowing not just the company they are dealing with but also asking questions about the ultimate underwriter of the policy.

While based and regulated in Gibraltar, Elite had at least stood the test of time and was more transparent than many of its competitors. Last December, the company even went so far as to secure an independent assessment of its financial strength, from a respected ratings agency. The security behind that ‘BBB’ rating may not have averted this outcome, but it should give partners some confidence that Elite’s promise to meet its obligations to policyholders and creditors should be fulfilled.

Whenever and however the next ATE provider exits the market, the solicitors and their clients may not be so lucky.

Friday, 30 June 2017

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for our ATE Sales team – Mike Knight, ATE Sales Manager

First up was AvMA’s Annual Clinical Negligence Conference followed, a week later, by the APIL Advanced Brain and Spinal Cord Conference. Both exhibitions are regularly in our events calendar as they provide an invaluable opportunity for us to connect with new prospects and re-connect with our current partners. 

Both events were extremely busy for us, so apologies to anyone who didn’t get the chance to speak to us on our stands, please do contact us below if you would like a chat! Even though each event has a different demographic of delegates, our message is always the same.

For more than a decade, ARAG has led the way in delivering innovative after-the-event insurance solutions to law firms throughout the country. Many will talk of ‘access to justice’, but ARAG is still driven by its founding principle, more than 80 years old, that “…every person should be able to assert their legal rights, not just those who can afford it.”

Nowhere is this principle more important than in our mission to ensure justice continues to be accessible to those who have sustained severe and sometimes catastrophic injuries. At a time when claimant firms and their clients have been confronted with successive challenges, seemingly perpetual reform and shifting regulatory and market conditions, ARAG has stood firm, developing and adapting products to satisfy increasingly demanding requirements, especially in the personal injury and clinical negligence sectors.

The design of our Recourse range of after-the-event solutions has always focused on simplicity. Products that a solicitor can easily explain and a client can readily understand; products free from complex underwriting mechanisms and onerous conditions; products, put simply, that work.

As a result, we are regularly shortlisted for a string of awards, from Personal Injury Insurance Provider of the Year to Legal Expenses Team of the Year, ARAG has been recognised as the outstanding provider of legal expenses insurance solutions for law firms and their clients.

I always enjoy attending events like those put on by AvMA and APIL as they offer a perfect mix of business and networking. Then again, maybe that’s why I have now decided to take on the challenge of Dry July!

The idea of going alcohol free during a summer month of BBQ’s, sporting events and corporate entertaining is not going to be easy but it is for a great cause and a charity close to our hearts at ARAG; FOCUS. The motivation to stay off the alcohol and enjoy a range of non-alcoholic beverages throughout the month comes from the knowledge that any donations received will enable the charity to invest in projects that make hospitals better. Their aim is to create a comfortable and positive environment for all their patients and staff, investing in improvements to buildings, state of the art equipment and extra care over and above that provided by the NHS. If you would like to show your support, please click here

Going forward, we are supporting the St John’s Chamber and AvMA Charity Dinner in Bristol on the 21st September and exhibiting at the APIL Clinical Negligence Conference in Brighton on the 5th and 6th of October – I hope to see you there!

Contact details:

Mike Knight, ATE Account Manager


Mail: 9 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1NN

Mobile: 07795 636391

Friday, 23 June 2017

Guest Blog - Our Product Taskforce team experience in Bristol

On Wednesday 7th of June, a group of international ARAG colleagues met up in Bristol to work together for the Task Forces initiative.

The main idea behind the Task Force project is to bring together product developers from different ARAG countries to brainstorm and push innovation forward in quick and unexpected ways.

Our two groups, focusing on the topics of Sharing Economy and Cyber, discussed product ideas and future market trends, presenting their results to each other at the end of the day. The presentations were interesting and to the point, as everyone worked hard to prepare the road for the final goal: the International Product Workshop in September!

We strongly believe that new creative opportunities can be created through cross-country discussions and idea-sharing. It was a real pleasure to be hosted by ARAG UK in Bristol, having the chance to make an office tour within the premises and meet all the colleagues.

Many Thanks to everyone and see you next time!

Jennifer, Ilaria and Camilla, ARAG SE


Thursday, 15 June 2017

Why serving our customers is so important – George Bladon, Corporate Account Manager

I’ve just returned from a busy but enjoyable couple of days on the sunny English Riviera, attending the NFRN Annual Conference, in Torquay.

The NFRN represent a large number of independent retailers across the UK and Ireland and they were gathered together in order to discuss the various challenges they face in their daily business lives: from financial pressures due to increased business rates and competition from supermarket chains, to onerous legislation and regulations.

Being able to engage directly with the end user of our product was a fantastic opportunity for us and an important reminder of why we place so much emphasis on being an innovative and flexible partner.

Over the last two days, we spoke to independent retailers about the wide range of legal issues that concern them, including employment issues, tax enquiries, licensing matters and contractual disputes.

With lawyers charging hundreds of pounds per hour, the cost of getting involved in any sort of legal dispute could be crippling, so it was great to be able to reassure NFRN members about the benefits of the policy and how it can help with advice, assistance, online legal resources and vital legal protection.
Clearly, not all retailers are going to face the same issues. For an organisation like the NFRN, looking to provide its members with a product that really meets their needs and provides great value, working with a flexible and innovative partner like ARAG is invaluable.

As a company, we have something in common with such customers, who strive for independence and self-fulfillment. As an independent, family-owned business, we are free to make our own decisions, without constraint, making independence our most valuable asset. It provides a significant business advantage for our partners as we are quick, flexible and easy to do business with, enabling us to work out a solution that works for you.

If you are looking to offer your customers a tailored legal expenses and assistance insurance product then please get in touch to find out how we can provide the solutions to assist you.

Contact details:

George Bladon, Corporate Account Manager
Mail: 9 Whiteladies Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1NN
Phone: 0117 307 2262
Mobile: 07766 130469